Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama issued an apology on Monday after a widely shared social media video showed him kissing a schoolboy on the lips and asking the child to “suck my tongue.”
“His Holiness wishes to apologize to the boy and his family, as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused,” the Dalai Lama said through his office.
“His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He regrets the incident.”
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Footage of the February 28 incident, captured in a broadcast by the Tibet arm of the United States government-backed Voice of America, showed the Dalai Lama interacting with about 100 student graduates of India’s M3M Foundation at his temple in McLeod Ganj, which is in Dharamshala in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
After the young boy asked the Dalai Lama for a hug, the child was invited to greet the religious leader, who asked for a kiss on the cheek, gave the boy a kiss on the lips, and said: “And suck my tongue.” The boy appeared to stick out his tongue, but the pair separated after touching foreheads and shared a laugh to applause from the crowd.
“Now, you should look [to] those good human beings who create peace [and] happiness,” the Dalai Lama told the boy. “[You] should not follow those human beings who [are] always killing other people.”
At the end of the two-minute clip, the boy nodded and the pair shared another hug. They then laughed as the Dalai Lama appeared to tickle him.
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Social media users on Twitter and elsewhere who shared another 20-second video of the same incident accused the Tibetan leader of sexual assault. Those who responded to the longer edit also said the conduct was inappropriate.
The Dalai Lama, 87, has lived in exile in India since 1959 after a failed uprising against China’s annexation of Tibet nearly a decade earlier.
Beijing considers him a separatist for his decades of philanthropy and his promotion of Tibetan Buddhism, language and culture.
United Nations experts and activists living in exile have accused the Chinese government of seeking to erase traditional Tibetan language and culture by forcefully assimilating the region’s children into a residential school system.
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The Dalai Lama, who has courted controversy with his remarks in the past, is seeking to ensure that his successor is selected according to Tibetan practices, rather than appointed by officials in Beijing.
The United States, which recognizes Tibet as part of China, supports the non-interference of his reincarnation process.
Tibet’s highest leader said last month that he would like to live another two decades.
The Dalai Lama’s office didn’t respond to an email from Newsweek seeking comment before publication.
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